Things to think about before/after seeing Coraline

22 02 2009

So last weekend I saw the movie Coraline, which I thoroughly enjoyed and recommend to everyone. It was slightly creepy but still beautifully made and entertaining. As much as I liked it, there were still some highly gendered aspects of the movie that kept nagging at me.

Coraline’s real mother is a busy working mom who never really has much time for Coraline. Her husband, Coraline’s father, refers to her as “the boss”. He cooks all the time, instead of the mom, and Coraline takes issue with this. She gets upset that her mom never cooks and tells her that she should cook. It’s a bit strange how Coraline, a young girl, keeps trying to enforce gender roles within her family because usually it’s the other way around. It just goes to show pervasive gender roles are in society and how ingrained they are in even young children. Coraline wants her family to seem “normal” and “perfect” which would mean that her mother would be the one to cook.

Meanwhile Coraline’s “Other Mother” epitomizes the stereotypical 50s housewife who just stays home, cooking and cleaning. She wears an apron, spends most of her time in the kitchen, is always heavily made up, and even dresses up in some instances. She feeds Coraline, nurtures her and gives her things that she wants. Her whole identity is based on motherhood – she is just the “Other Mother” who tries to find out everything that Coraline, or other children, want in their mothers, and tries to fulfill their desires to be the “perfect” mom. The thing about the “Other Mother” though is that she represents a matriarch. (SPOILER ALERT!) She created everything and everyone in her world. The father is emasculated and controlled by her, thus she is in total power.

And of course, the “Other Mother,” the only older female character in a position of power is vilified. She is sneaky, clever, scheming and domineering, and consequently must be evil. She, like the surrogate maternal figure in Disney movies or fairy tales, is ugly, possessive, powerful (which is a bad trait for a woman to have), power-hungry (also a bad trait for a woman to have), and must be stopped.

Also, Wybie is the only African-American character. He is eccentric, likes to catch slugs, and goes around in a dirt bike and weird helmet. just a strange, awkward kid. He is also very submissive – he has a hunched posture and whenever his grandmother calls for him he is quick to obey and dash back to her. (SPOILER ALERT AGAIN!) In the “Other Mother’s” world  his lips are sewn together and therefore is silenced.

Another important thing to consider is who’s doing what behind the scenes. The protagonist of the movie may be a girl (and the antagonist a woman), but the animation industry, like the movie industry, remains very male-dominated. When you look at the credits after the movie, the screenwriter, director, editors, most of the animators are men. Surprising? No, not really.

With all this said, I want to reiterate that I still really liked Coraline and I still think that if you haven’t seen it already, you should go see it, because it’s amazing. (See, being a feminist doesn’t mean that you abstain from all things fun but instead you participate with a more critical and conscious eye.)


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4 responses

22 02 2009
angryblkfeminist

Also remember those two older sisters that lived downstairs? They are old with large bodies that are not the “perfect” slim, hour-glass figure. So, of COURSE they’re single and only have each other and their dogs. (spoiler alert) In the Other World, which is supposed to be the ‘perfect’ world, they are slim like they were in their popular, glory days.

24 02 2009
feminist1

and ALSO, Wybie’s (the African-American boy’s) name stands for Wyborn, literally meaning Why-born. Thats messed up.

24 02 2009
angryblkfeminist

Can we also talk about how I didn’t know he was supposed to be black until I saw his grandmother? Why did that family have to be black, anyway? It seemed totally…unnecessary. Why make the resented kid black? ugh.

24 02 2009
feminist1

I also didn’t notice he was black until the end of the film. Perhaps this is partially because in many ways, he was not a traditionally stereotyped black character in appearance and mannerisms. Maybe it also reflects the fact that in films like this I am so used to seeing white characters I just assume whiteness until proven otherwise, especially because usually when black characters are introduced they are such blatant ridiculous stereotypes.

It is weird that in the other world, Wybie becomes not only silenced but becomes a sort of servant to Coraline. He is like her toy or something, no longer a unique person but a speechless form of entertainment. And to Coraline, this is better! Coraline basically picks on Wybie right from the beginning, but he still wants to be her friend. This is especially true in the other world, where he follows her around like a robot.

Also, Wybie wasn’t a part of the book. I admit I haven’t read the book so I don’t know everything that was changed, but I know that Wybie and the grandmother were additions. Maybe Wybie was added in an attempt at racial inclusion? Maybe he was also added to appeal to boys to watch a film with a female lead character? Wybie is also a pretty stereotyped BOY character. He runs around stalking girls, catching slugs, acting gross, and being pretty much annoying.

Another thing that is interesting about Wybie is his relationship with the grandmother. For one thing, he is parent-less (abandoned by his parents?) and living with his grandmother. He jumps every time his name is called, implying fear. Or maybe she is just worried about him… It almost rings a bell of tough black woman stereotypes, other-mothering, and child abandonment… But then again, Coraline’s mother is pretty tough as well. All the adult female characters in this film seem at least a little bit overbearing, while the male characters are sheepish and weak. Gender role reversal a bit…but I don’t know if that’s a good thing.

This comment isn’t really thought out, and i probably contradict myself a lot. Just a collection of thoughts…

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